Identity explored in two new plays at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival

SINGAPORE – Identity, displacement and the island nature of Singapore are explored in two different productions written by playwright Nabilah Said for the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.

The first, yesterday it rained salt, is about the relationship between a father and a son, who returns home to a changing island. It is a work-in-progress presented by the Bhumi Collective.

The second is Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native, about the relationship between a woman and her adopted child. The mother is a former island-dweller dealing with the move to mainland Singapore, her daughter grapples with being adopted. It is directed by Noor Effendy Ibrahim.

Both works developed from the playwright’s time with arts centre Centre 42’s Boiler Room incubation programme in 2015.

Nabilah, 33, says: “A couple of years ago I started being conscious of Singapore as a mainland, a focal point where most things gravitate towards. It made me think about the hidden narratives that existed in the fringes, of the people who lived in the islands surrounding the mainland. I found that dynamic fascinating.”

An early monologue version of yesterday it rained salt was presented at the Bunker Theatre in London by the Bhumi Collective in October last year. The Fringe Festival staging will feature more performers, including Soultari Amin Farid, the joint artistic director of the Bhumi Collective. Amin, 32, says he was drawn to the heart of a son trying to connect with his father when they have little in common. “I don’t watch soccer so my own father has to deal with a son who is ‘effeminate’,” he says. “It’s the idea that connecting with a person you hope to connect to might be an impossibility especially when you’ve grown apart for so long.”

Angkat: A Definitive, Alternative, Reclaimed Narrative Of A Native is the newest version of a concept by Nabilah that she started writing in 2015. It was to be staged by Teater Ekamatra last year, but the script was deemed unready for staging at the time and director Irfan Kasban and team devised a different production based on her idea.

She says: “Now that I’m working with Effendy, I realise I needed so many years to develop it into what I wanted it to be. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted.”

Angkat means “to carry” in Malay and “anak angkat” is the term used for adopted child. Given the long tradition of Malay families adopting children either within the community or outside, Effendy, 45, says: “There are a lot of young Malays nowadays you would guess are Chinese until they speak.”

The play “questions bloodlines, questions heritage and lineage”, according to the director.

The adopted child is not of the same ethnicity as the parents and is torn between embracing the borrowed ethnic identity and the identity betrayed by skin tone. “There’s a denial of that history, that’s where the tension is,” he says.

Whether it is an adopted child coming to terms with her heritage or an islander dealing with the mainland of Singapore, the struggle is the same, says Nabilah. “The idea that you were born somewhere and grew up somewhere else. To me it’s all an ‘anak angkat’ story.”

book it


WHERE: Esplanade Annexe Studio, 1 Esplanade Dr

WHEN: Jan 19, 2pm and 4pm

ADMISSION: $15 from Sistic (Call 6348-5555 or go to

INFO: In Malay and English with English surtitles


WHERE: NAFA Studio Theatre, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Campus 3, 151 Bencoolen St

WHEN: Jan 24 and 25, 8pm, Jan 26, 3pm and 8pm


INFO: In Malay with English surtitles

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